CUR Building a Research Program Workshop and future plans

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research.  Amply titled “Beginning a Research Program in the Natural Sciences at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution Institute,” this forum welcomed a group of promising young research advisors to Washington, D.C.  Led by several experienced facilitators, groups of faculty met to discuss such topics as advocating with administrators, building a cohesive group of research students, techniques to run a lab including time and resource management, and where to find grants to support research.  I also had several opportunities to network, which usually puts me way out of my comfort zone.  My breakout group was led by University of Nebraska-Kearney organic chemist Hector Palencia. He’s built a strong continuity of 3-4 students per year and has been externally funded, which enabled him to provide salient advice that we can apply to our research program.

Perhaps the most potent resource will be CURChem, a site built to connect and provide resources and encouragement to PUI researchers in Chemistry.  One of the site’s premier contributors, Muhlenberg College’s own Keri Colabroy, introduced us to the student research contract, the electronic notebook LabArchives, and Slack, a social networking app designed to connect her to her research group and promote accountability for progress. I’ve set up Slack and plan to try out LabArchives; however, I’m skeptical as to how structures and pictures (e.g., TLC plates) can be drawn into the program.  The great advantage is the ability to post videos and have a searchable archive of experimentation in the group over time.  Now, I just have to find a student willing to transcribe eight years worth of paper research notebooks into LabArchives.  Hmmm…

I was grateful for this opportunity, and had some creative time to plan out what I’m going to do when I return to campus, what I plan to accomplish before the end of the semester, and what I’m going to do this academic year.

One of my major professional weaknesses is my inability to delegate important but ancillary tasks to others.  I think I can and should do it all myself, and that whatever I delegate will not be done as well, as quickly, or as foolproof as I can do it.  I’ve got to abandon that line of thinking.  I must abandon that thought pattern.  My research students are eager and capable of helping, and probably can accomplish what I ask of them if I provide sufficient direction and follow-through.  Leveraging my team’s time and skills to handle the little things would free me up to work on the big-picture things, such as grant writing, coming up with new ideas to drive the program forward, maintaining collaborations, and ensuring the continuity of the group for the next year(s).

Other than catching up on grading, here’s what I plan to do when I return to campus and for the last month of the semester:  reboot our weekly writing accountability group, finally get my research lab all set up, get our NMR spectrometer connected to the campus network and write a training manual, train my students to begin working in the lab, plan a day/time for weekly group meetings, set up LabArchives and begin posting to it, organize and update my references once and for all and import them into Zotero,  and get my very eager students to begin doing chemistry.

Research-wise, here’s what I plan to do through the Christmas break and at the beginning of spring semester:  complete and submit my NIH R-15 AREA grant proposal, apply for a $5000 research grant from the American Society of Pharmacognosy, have my students apply for internal funds, and start assembling experiments and completing curriculum paperwork for an upper-division NMR-based synthesis lab/lecture course.  I must also get the Metacognition project off the ground with my internal collaborators, especially because I’m teaching two sections of Organic Chemistry I in the Spring.  To do that, I must get IRB approval, finalize my assessment documents, deploy them, and complete an internal grant proposal that will enable me to hire and train student graders.

I can and will do this. Please keep me accountable readers!